Evan Floden discusses the risks of starting Seqera Labs, the sequencing opportunities, and the challenges of growing into the CEO role.
Evan Floden is CEO and co-founder of Seqera Labs, a Barcelona-based company that provides data orchestration and workflow software to the life sciences sector. Earlier this year he raised €22 million and also won several grants from the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative (CZI).
“The CEO of a tech company has many roles to play, from setting strategy and direction, to being the public face of the company, to acting in accordance with our values,” said Floden. told SiliconRepublic.com.
“My main role is to empower the team. The more I can support them, the more they will be able to support our main mission of building essential software for our customers’ research efforts. ”
“Like many start-ups, we had a problem to solve.”
– Evan Froden
What are the biggest challenges facing your sector and how are you addressing them?
Our sector is undergoing rapid change. The scale of data that needs to be analyzed has increased significantly. New sequencing and imaging methods are evolving almost daily. The recent pandemic has only accelerated these trends. Organizations needed to dramatically expand their computing and analytics capabilities.
These trends are well understood in our industry. Part of our approach was to stay ahead of the 2nd and 3rd order problems by anticipating and solving them. For example, it was no secret that customers wanted to move their workloads to the cloud. However, I realized that I also wanted portability, automatic provisioning, and optimization capabilities.
Reproducibility is also important in our industry. We anticipate needs for things like versioning pipelines and datasets, and better ways to manage containers at scale. Solving these and other issues guides our development agenda.
What are the key sector opportunities you are tapping into?
I think our space has some opportunities. Biotech companies have adopted cloud computing in greater numbers than in many other industries. We are committed to seamless consumption of cloud computing and storage services, offering integration with all major cloud and cloud storage technologies.
Another opportunity is the “seq-everything” idea. Not long ago, genome sequencing was prohibitively expensive. You may have heard that sequencing the first human genome took him 13 years and cost billions of dollars. Now costs have plummeted to well below $500 for him.
Sequencing barriers are rapidly falling and Seqera Labs is at the forefront of addressing the next bottleneck, enabling the rapid and cost-effective analysis of all these sequences. The combination of fast and inexpensive sequencing and analysis is exciting. They will lead to more genetic screening, better preventive care, and more effective gene-targeted drugs.
What brought you to where you are now?
Like many start-ups, we had a problem we needed to solve. My partner and co-founder, Paolo Di Tomaso, was working on analytical tools at the Center for Genome Regulation in Barcelona. His job was to make the research team more efficient, but it was clear that the tools at the time had many problems.
He created the open source Nextflow and the adoption has been phenomenal. It turns out that many people have these same problems. Today, Nextflow is an active open source community with thousands of active his users downloading over 55,000 times every month.
We realized that organizations have other unmet needs related to automation, secure collaboration, and automation of cloud infrastructure. We also knew we needed to make our complex pipelines more accessible to non-IT professionals. To tackle this next problem, we had to think bigger, which is why we decided to launch Seqera Labs in 2019.
What’s the biggest risk you’ve ever taken?
To do that, I think I need to decide to set up Seqera Labs and go all-in full-time, no income, and minimal cash. We were lucky enough to raise some early seed funding. Thankfully, there was also a community of talented people who had worked on his Nextflow over the years. They shared our vision and understood exactly what problem we were trying to solve.
On the open community side, we would like to thank CZI for funding us under the Essential Open Software for Sciences program. They recognized the value of Nextflow and a parallel community called Nf-core with over 1,000 contributors.
What job skills would you like to have?
I’ve had to grow into my role, but don’t forget that leaders can be blinded by their weaknesses. If you think I’m wrong, don’t be afraid to tell me. I am lucky to have a solid team around me who can help me.
We have recognized the need to shift the mindset from that of an individual contributor to that of a CEO. I think technology is fascinating. Left to my devices, I’ll probably cram my day with meetings with customers, pitching technology and learning about interesting problems customers are trying to solve.
However, my time allocation problem is starting to resolve on its own. As Seqera Labs grew, I became more demanding and forced to delegate my time. As I built my management team, I consciously sought out people with skills and experiences that differed from mine. Hopefully this helps alleviate some of these potential blind spots.
How can I bring out the best in my team?
Our leadership team has a similar philosophy. We seek excellence, but we try to provide the space people need to grow and try things out. These people are already spontaneous. I believe that explaining the desired outcome and trusting their judgment on how to get there works well.
I think it is also important to maintain a flat organization and maintain transparency. We strive to foster a culture that recognizes success and encourages team building and collaboration. Value is important. While we’ve been serious about growing and improving our platform, we’ve also spent time thinking about the type of organization we want to be.
We remember that as a company grows, maintaining a great culture becomes more difficult. In this regard, scalability hinges on building a leadership team that “walks the talk” and leads by example.
Have you noticed diversity issues in your sector?
absolutely. Bioinformatics is at the crossroads of high performance computing and biology, both fields occupied by senior men.
We can manage diversity at work, but on the open source/community side, this is another area where CZI helps. Once a year, we conduct a survey on the state of workflow in our community. This year, we started collecting demographic information and achieved some baseline measurements. It’s more diverse than the entire high performance computing community, but not by much.
CZI funding has enabled us to conduct proactive outreach and mentoring programs for minority groups and communities. In September, we published an article detailing the results of his first Nextflow and Nf core mentorship rounds. A second mentorship round he started in October. We hope to demonstrate in future community research that we have moved the needle on inclusivity.
Which books have you read that you would recommend?
When I’m not playing Fortnite, I love reading non-fiction, especially science-related stuff. Siddhartha Mukherjee’s The Emperor of All Maladies is one of his finest examples of weaving epic storytelling with deep domain expertise that I have come across.
I think it appeals to me because the topic is in our wheelhouse. This book tracks our understanding of cancer over thousands of years. What makes this refreshing is that our generation may finally understand it and beat it.
What are your essential tools and resources to get you through the work week?
Like most startups, we run many in-house tools, from Notion to Slack to HubSpot to Zoom.
A bike is also an essential tool to get you through the week. Not only does it help me get to my office in Barcelona, but it also gives me the opportunity to relax and clear my mind after a long weekend drive. This always helps me gain some perspective and hopefully makes me a more balanced leader.
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